His observation could not go unchallenged.
"I have a thought for you that might spiff up your view of your jobs," I said to the four. "Why don't you start up your buses each morning and, while the engine is warming, walk down the aisle of the bus and shout, 'In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, I declare this bus to be a sanctuary where passengers will experience something of the love of Christ through me.' You can be a pastor in your own sanctuary."
I suggested that a bus (like a chapel, an arena, and a mountain hut) could be consecrated, "made holy," for higher purposes than just public transport. And I added that any job can be elevated into a form of pastoral Christ-serving if we start the day in such a way. I concluded, "See if Jesus honors your daily effort."
One of the drivers muttered, "I supposed we could try that."
In the weeks that followed, Gail and I would occasionally get on a bus operated by one of the four drivers. We'd quietly say—hoping that no one else would hear—"are you driving a bus or a sanctuary today?" Always, they'd answer, "It's a sanctuary, man, a sanctuary." Sometimes one of them would say when they saw either of us stepping on the bus, "Welcome to my sanctuary."
A few months later, one of the four drivers said he wanted a word with me.
"This sanctuary thing," he told me, "has changed my day. Yesterday, a guy got on the bus, and he began to curse at me when I wouldn't let him off at a corner where it's not legal to stop. Know something? There was a day when I would have invited someone like him to step off the bus and discuss things with our fists. But I stayed quiet, and when I finally let him off at the right place, I said, "Have a nice day, sir; glad you were aboard."
When I affirmed the driver for his patience, he said, "Oh, it's not really that difficult when you're driving a sanctuary instead of a bus."
Having told this story about our bus driver friends many times, I now have people who tell me that they've learned to declare their offices, their classrooms, their operating rooms into sanctuaries.
This morning I read once again (Mark 1) where Jesus, after a busy day, got up early the next morning and went off to "a solitary place where he prayed." I think Jesus would have thought of that place—quiet, beautiful, bereft of crowds—as a sanctuary.
We're not told what Jesus did in that outdoor sanctuary, but it's clear that when the time ended, he was committed to his mission of proclaiming his gospel more than ever.
A sanctuary, no matter what form it takes, is a place where one should experience interior change. Among the changes? A reminder of the beauty and love of God, a fresh realization of one's brokenness, a host of things to be thankful for, a chance to give from the fruits of one's labor, an experience of deep prayer and the sense that God has heard, and a time to hear the reading of Holy Scripture and feel it planting its powerful content in one's soul.
Many of us enter sanctuaries tired or disappointed or angry or fearful or lonely. Others enter with appreciations for loving relationships, life-blessings, and a desire to deepen or grow. But the thing of greatest importance is how do we leave? Redirected, newly focused? Having experienced grace and forgiveness? Appreciative of the people we've been with? Freshly committed to Jesus?
Then, whether we sat on pews, arena seats, a dirt floor, or a crowded bus, makes little difference. We have worshiped and God himself has been with us.
Gordon MacDonald is editor at large of Leadership Journal and chancellor of Denver Seminary.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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